June 16, 2024

The FBI on Wednesday raided a local prosecutor’s office and business in Mississippi’s capital city, although officials declined to say whether Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens is suspected of wrongdoing.

FBI agents spent hours searching a cigar bar owned by Owens in downtown Jackson. They also removed items from his office in the Hinds County Courthouse.

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Marshay Lawson, the spokesperson for the FBI’s office in Jackson, said the reason for the search remains secret.

“The FBI is executing federal search warrants at multiple locations,” Lawson said. “The affidavit in support of the search warrants has been sealed by the court and so I am prohibited from commenting further.”

Owens also didn’t say what the raid was about.

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FBI Evidence Response Team members photograph the front of a business owned by Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens, in downtown Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, May 22, 2024. The business was one of several businesses in Jackson that were raided by the FBI’s Jackson office on Wednesday morning. Officials declined after the raids to say whether Owens is suspected of wrongdoing.  (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

“This morning, FBI agents came to our offices,” the second-term district attorney said in a statement. “We are fully cooperating with their efforts. The Hinds County District Attorney’s Office is fully functioning and continues its work on behalf of the citizens of Hinds County.”

Owens is listed as the manager and sole member of the company that owns the Downtown Cigar Co., which agents also searched. The business also has a state permit to act as a bar selling alcohol.

Before first being elected as district attorney in 2019, Owens had been the lead attorney in Mississippi for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal-leaning group known for bringing lawsuits over issues including civil rights. Owens ran as a criminal justice reformer, saying he would focus on prosecuting violent crime while looking for alternatives to jail and prison for nonviolent offenders.

But Jackson has been challenged by the nation’s highest murder rate by some accounts, and Owens received more funding from Republican lawmakers to hire more prosecutors. Republicans have expanded the state-run Capitol Police controlled by Republican Gov. Tate Reeves to patrol all of Jackson and created a state-run court with judges that are appointed rather than elected. Many Democrats have said those moves represent a white takeover of an overwhelming Black city and that more resources should be used for crime prevention. The law was upheld in federal court after an NAACP lawsuit, and the conflict has quieted somewhat in recent months.

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In 2022, Owens was cited by the Capitol Police for simple assault, a misdemeanor, after police said he aimed and pointed a gun at a man from Hattiesburg who was visiting a woman in a downtown Jackson apartment.

Owens denied wrongdoing at the time.

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